Renewed Opposition Conspires Against the Oil Sands

May 5, 2011
Barbara Yaffe
The Vancouver Sun

In case anyone thought everything was proceeding apace with respect to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, environmentalists served notice on Thursday that they're mobilizing anew to try to thwart the proposed undertaking.

The $5.5-billion project envisions two parallel 1,170-km. pipelines from the oil sands, stretching across B.C. to a tanker port in Kitimat, pipelines that would carry 525,000 barrels of oil per day. Federal Liberals, New Democrats and newly elected Green MP Elizabeth May all want to ban oil tanker traffic on B.C.'s north coast. But, with the Harper Government's majority election win Monday, those favouring the project -- which would have some 225 tankers a year traversing north coast waters -- may be tempted to heave a sign of relief.

The Conservative Government indeed is at one with a Canadian energy industry desire to strategically diversify export markets for the oilsands product beyond U.S. markets to take advantage of growing energy demand in Asia. So is the B.C. Government. But the governments' position is fiercely opposed, and not just by the Opposition parties.

Enbridge opponents say that next Wednesday they intend to dispatch to Stephen Harper's home base in Calgary, "an unprecedented delegation of some 100 First Nations representatives, arriving by the busload -- community members, youths and elders ... to bring the message to the oil patch, the government and the financial community, that the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project is dead. It's not going to happen."

Andrew Frank, a spokesman for the protest, says the event should serve as "a powerful reminder that, while a new federal political order has come to pass, the unresolved legal questions associated with resolutely opposed First Nations [groups] stretching West from the Rockies and all the way to the B.C. coast is a much more entrenched political reality, that the Conservatives and Canada's oil patch will be hard-pressed to overcome."

Frank promises "very public opposition to the pipeline" next week, both inside and outside Enbridge's Annual General Meeting taking place in Calgary.

Meanwhile, Enbridge announced Thursday that a federal regulatory review panel scrutinizing the enterprise has mandated public hearings into the project to begin Jan. 10, 2012. An accompanying statement from Northern Gateway Pipelines President John Carruthers asserted: "It's our belief that the more people know about what we're proposing, our commitment to safeguard te environment, and the tremendous economic benefits for our entire country, the more supportive they will be."

The pipeline and port project has the makings to become the biggest political controversy the Harper Government will have to deal with in the next Parliament. It bears close watching.

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